Kitchn Love Letters

The $2 Pantry Staple I’m Never Without

updated Mar 1, 2023
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ranch chicken sits baked and garnished on a sheet pan
Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

In 2005, I moved to the United States from Mumbai, India. As you can imagine, my entire world changed on the flight over. Everything was different. Biscuits were called cookies, and ladyfingers were called okra. People drove on a different side of the road and French toast was served with syrup and powdered sugar (I only ever had savory French toast when I was growing up, but that’s another story altogether.) 

I still remember the first time I stepped into a grocery store (through the exit door because in India, walking, like driving, was done on the left). I was mesmerized by the sheer volume of things. Endless aisles of snacks, breads, condiments, and dressings. One of the dressings, I recognized one right off the bat: ranch. Why? Because I had seen it in every American home I had visited up to this point, and every household had that same bottle and that same brand: Hidden Valley Ranch.

My mom used to buy the huge bottles from Costco and smuggle them back to India to impress her friends at get-togethers.

As time went by, I realized just how ubiquitous ranch dressing was. Wherever I went, there it was. You could find it in all the cupboards and at all the holiday office parties and summertime cookouts. One day I found a bottle of ranch in my boss’s office, behind his desk, next to a stack of files. Because that’s where the important things in his office went.

As I began to gain my footing in America, I learned about all the differences people had. Whether it was politics, religion, or Major League Baseball, there wasn’t a category where Americans did not have differing opinions and opposing viewpoints. But one thing we could all agree on was that everything was better with ranch dressing. There’s just something about the flavor. It’s garlicky for people who like garlic and plenty of onion flavor for people who like that sort of thing. It has an agreeable dipping texture that works with nearly everything.

As odd as it sounds, I also like the appearance of ranch. Once it hits the plate, it gives it just a little bit of pop, and you know it’s ranch. Of course, it went on top of salads, but as a dip, it went perfectly with veggies, pizza, chicken wings, and potato chips. There really wasn’t anything that ranch didn’t agree with, nor anyone who disagreed with ranch. Young and old, rich and poor. It was the true equalizer. 

Credit: Keya Wingfield

Why Hidden Valley Ranch Will Always Have a Spot in My Kitchen  

Over the years I’ve bought bottles of ranch in just about every size, shape, and fashion. My mom used to buy the huge bottles from Costco and smuggle them back to India to impress her friends at get-togethers. A few years ago I discovered Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning packets and ever since, I’ve been making my own dressing by adding equal parts yogurt and mayo.

The packets are super handy to keep in my pantry. The beauty of being able to make my own dip is that it’s so easy to customize, or you can just sprinkle the powder directly on top of toast or pretzels. I can also make smaller quantities of the dip for a specific need and not have any food waste. Hello, convenience!

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

I have a 4-year-old daughter who decided one day that she would no longer eat broccoli (yeah, apparently you can do that). Challenge accepted. I quickly whipped up some yogurt-based ranch, gave it to her with her broccoli, and, just like that, the boycott was over. Thank you, ranch dressing. You’re my hero.

I’m guessing that everyone has a similar story, because that’s what ranch dressing does. It brings us together. It makes the tolerable foods good and our favorite foods better. I don’t know who invented it, but I’m sure they deserve some sort of Nobel prize for their contribution to humanity. If America is the great Melting Pot, right next to that pot should be a bottle of ranch.

Buy: Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning Salad Dressing & Recipe Mix, $2.39 for 1 ounce at Target

What pantry staple is your kitchen never without? Tell us about it in the comments below.